A holiday rerun, exactly one year ago….Pizza, and who makes the best, is a subject that elicits a great deal of passion from practically everyone. How can anyone claim to be the best? Some folks like it saucy, others like it dry. My parents like cracker-thin crust while my neighbor prefers hand-tossed. The battle between New York and Chicago styles is legendary, each camp fiercely loyal to their pie.
Antico Pizza Napoletana has received more press, mostly positive, than any other new pizza joint in recent memory. Their artisan pies are STG certified “Verace Artiginale” by the European Commission’s Istituto Mediterraneo di Certificazione.
Owner and pizzaiolo Giovanni Di Palma hails from New Jersey and New York, via his obvious Italian heritage. A visit to his grandparents’ village near Naples inspired him to open Antico in October of 2009, using flour from Molino San Felice made in the village of Cimitile.
Antico means “ancient”, and Di Palma adheres to the methods and traditions of true pizza di Napoli, hand-kneading the dough daily and charring the pizzas in one of three hand-made Acunto ovens, world renowned for their intense 900 degree heat contained by ancient Santa Maria brick and volcanic rock from Mount Vesuvius.
Specific ingredients are required for the pizza to be STG certified, including fresh Mozzarella di Bufala from Campania and San Marzano tomatoes.
LC and I visited Antico last Friday, needless to say with a few preconceived expectations based upon all the hoopla. Housed in a free-standing white brick building, the space is industrial, yet exudes a certain warmth, no doubt from the hot-as-hell ovens, and from the man himself, who brings his passion for pizza to the table every single day.
Still without a liquor license, we picked up a six-pack of Peroni and I toted a chilled bottle of Lambrusco….gotta keep it real! The original main dining area is separated from the kitchen only by the counter where Giovanni and his pizzaioli toss and top the dough. Enough wooden picnic tables are available to seat around 60 people comfortably and there were likely that many there on Friday. Each table has a big roll of brown paper towels and plastic cups. Who needs fancy? We relaxed with our drinks and waited as the speakers belted out Italian opera…..classic.
We tried two pizzas, the first a Margherita, topped simply with Mozzarella di Bufala, fresh basil, and San Marzano tomatoes. I had heard Antico’s pizzas were “wet” so I was a bit worried. I’m not a fan of saucy pizzas, and I like the crust extra-crispy.
Giovanni himself brought it out and cut it at our table. It was a big pie, perhaps 18″, so I was impressed that the center was not soggy. However, the ratio of tomato to cheese was certainly heavy on the tomato. In keeping with the casual service, the pizzas are served on metal sheets on brown paper.
Our second pizza was the Capricciosa topped with mushroom, artichoke, prosciutto cotto, and bufala. LC discovered the condiment table with hot pepper flakes, pickled hot red peppers, and parmesan and got us some of each. We both preferred this pie, especially with the addition of more spice! But I found that once I had eaten the central part of a slice, I was left with about 3″ of crust, so I had amassed a pile of “ends”. LC, on the other hand, ate all the crust, causing him to feel “full of dough” later….LOL.
I was on my third slice when Giovanni pulled up a chair at the end of our table, poured himself a glass of my Lambrusco, and started talking about his passion for pizza, commenting “It’s a lot more than great pizza. Look around the room, everyone’s got a smile on their face. Nobody’s texting, they’re enjoying the experience.” So true.
You may have guessed by now, it wasn’t my favorite pizza ever, but I loved the atmosphere. From the music to the frenetic pace of the smiling pizzaioli in the kitchen, Antico feels authentic. Perhaps I would return for the Bianca, or white pizza, with four Italian cheeses. Or maybe I would try of of their calzoni that are so enormous they are cut into individual servings.
But our experience wasn’t over yet….
The biggest culinary revelation of the evening, and perhaps of the year, was the cannolis. Ever since I ate one at a deli in New York, I’ve hated them. I mean loathe them. Quite a bit has been written about Antico’s cannolis so I knew I would have to try one. I thought we’d just take one home to be polite but Giovanni insisted I needed to eat it immediately after he made it.
Di Palma’s cannolis are fresh. He makes the thin, crisp cookie shells and fills them with old fashioned cream that is remarkably light and ethereal. He brought over two huge cannolis, one with chocolate chips and the other flavored with Nutella. I took a bite. Damn! Not even the same species as those tiny, hard, stale things in New York filled with disgusting frosting.
That was my first real cannoli and I can assure you it won’t be my last. The best in Atlanta? Damn straight. But the battle of the pizza pies will surely rage on.
1093 Hemphill Avenue 404-724-2333 (phone orders accepted)